Via a newsletter, I see that the Tennessee Center for Policy Research has given the 2007 Lump of Coal Award to Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale and the Knox County Commissioners. The Lump of Coal Award is given every year to "the person or group in Tennessee who, more than any other over the past year, acted as a Grinch to taxpayers by wastefully spending tax dollars and bah-humbugged the principles of open, transparent government."

It’s easy to see why Knox County was so honored. From the newsletter:

After the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the term-limited Knox County Commission could not serve once their terms expired, commissioners voted to fill 12 soon-vacant commission seats with friends and family members. Among the new appointees were the son, wife, father, campaign treasurer and chief deputy of outgoing council members.

Following the vote, it came to light that Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale had threatened to withhold funding to districts of commissioners who did not vote for the mayor’s preferred candidates. The mayor and commissioners were later found in violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act for the closed door vote-trading that occurred during the selection of the new commissioners.

To make matters worse for Knox County taxpayers, members of Mayor Ragsdale’s staff and county commissioners made questionable and unapproved purchases at taxpayers’ expense on county credit cards. This led to the resignation of the Knox County finance director, the mayor’s executive assistant and an administrative assistant. Among the dodgy expenses were a cruise and a $227 lobster lunch for three.